Dan Svitich

Dan Svitich

Riding the bus in STAR Catholic School Division

Riding the bus with the St. Thomas Aquinas School Division: Ponoka trustee column.

By Dan Svitich

At St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic School Division (STAR), we know that a child’s school day doesn’t begin when they enter the classroom; it begins when they wake up at home.

That day is different for all students, but for the majority of them that includes a trip on a school bus.

The complexity of transporting hundreds of students each day is vast, as STAR Catholic provides busing service through a variety of options including co-operative busing agreements with our local public school boards, and also through private contractors.

You may have recently heard that the Government of Alberta has eliminated school fees in Bill 1, but when it comes to busing fees Bill 1 only eliminates busing fees charged to families living more than 2.4 kms from and attending their designated school. STAR Catholic doesn’t, and has not in the past, charged bus fees to those families.

In STAR Catholic our annual transportation fee is $470 per student, or a $940 per-family maximum, and is only charged to families living less than 2.4 kms from their designated STAR Catholic School. These fees are subject to an annual review by the STAR Catholic Board of Trustees. If your child is on a bus operated by one of our sister boards the fee is set by those respective boards, and may differ from STAR Catholic’s fee.

The Government of Alberta provides some transportation funding for students who live more than 2.4 kms from their designated school, however, the division receives no transportation funding for families who live less than 2.4 kms from their designated school, or who live outside the Division’s formed boundaries. The $470 per student annual transportation fee comes well short of covering the cost to transport each student. Subsequently, in an effort to keep fees affordable for families, the division currently subsidizes the shortfall of operating buses.

Costs are a part of what goes into providing busing to families, but so too are safety and communication.

STAR Catholic is committed to safety for students, and recently a bus safety poster and video contest engaged students in the message of Be Safe, Be Responsible and Be Respectful. Grades 1 to 6 participated in the poster contest, while junior and senior high students were invited to submit videos. Students were creative and truly showed what it means and how important it is to be safe, responsible and respectful while riding a school bus. Most importantly, it reinforced this message in students and got them proactively thinking about safety.

Communication continues to be important, and in April our annual bus survey will go out to parents and students. This helps us to gather feedback on your child’s experience on the school bus, and helps us to continue to plan, adapt and continuously improve that experience for all students and families.

We value our families, the commitment they have made to STAR Catholic and the trust they put in us and our partners when sending their child on the bus. At the same time we are committed to being transparent in the way transportation is funded, in the safety of the students riding the bus and in our continued communication and engagement with parents.

Dan Svitich dan.svitich@starcatholic.ab.ca is a Ponoka Trustee on the STAR Catholic Schools Division Board. STAR Catholic Schools has more than 3,900 students in 11 schools located in Beaumont, Drayton Valley, Leduc, Lacombe, Ponoka and Wetaskiwin.